Blogs & Articles

Tuesday, Aug 10, 2010

Computer Technology Review

Link to posted article in CTR


By Joshua Geist
Business Continuity (BC) and Disaster Recovery (DR) are terms that have been in common use for well over a decade, and reflect the business world’s acknowledgment that data matters – and that corporate leaders need to protect their companies by deploying solutions that ensure that it’s “business as usual” in the event of infrastructure loss.  And while companies everywhere have embraced the increasingly sophisticated technology that has flooded the market in recent years, the “how-to” technology related to BC and DR has pretty much stayed the same.
Build it.  Set up an offsite location to house your mission-critical servers and your data in yours or a 3rd-party data center, establish a high-bandwidth or dedicated line from your internal server room to the data center.  This deployment model sound easy when it’s boiled down to a single sentence, but for the few companies that can afford to adopt this approach, it’s anything but.
The build-it model invariably involves engaging consultants and large data management or outsourcing companies, and can take anywhere from 3 to 6 months to implement.  As you can imagine, the deployment and ongoing management costs associated with the custom-built solutions are substantial – and for the most part are only available to Fortune 500 organizations that have multi-million dollar IT budgets.
What about the Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) market?  How do businesses in this segment protect themselves from system outages and data loss?  In many cases, they don’t – at least not at a level that fully protects their business.  Some deploy appliances locally that mirror their critical server infrastructure, and they couple this with daily data back-up.  They are doing what they can with the budgets and resource available to them, and they have to be applauded for that. But, in today’s world where regulatory, financial and industry compliance has become increasingly important, it’s just not enough.  And in most cases, they know it.
So, what’s the answer?  How do the SMEs– even companies in the SMB space – economically create enterprise level BC/DR solutions that fully protect their business operations?  Enter the Cloud…
The Cloud is essentially an “on-demand” data center that allows organizations to consume variable resources on an as-needed basis.  It’s a brilliant and timely model that has caught the attention of any company that is heavily reliant on technology, and is looking for ways to reduce its capital expenditures.
Potentially Devastating 
Under the old paradigm, when cuts to capex budgets were applied, the BC/DR line items were typically among the first to get reviewed and slashed.  Think the corporate equivalent of keeping your liability insurance on your vehicle, but removing collision coverage to save a few bucks.  It’s a good short-term way of saving money, with potentially devastating financial and operational implications.  Still, that’s the position that many companies are in…but that’s about to change with the emergence of robust, scalable Cloud-enabled solutions that are turning the traditional BC/DR markets upside down. 
Recovery as a Service is the new paradigm when it comes to BC and DR deployments.  Led by numerous top tier Cloud Providers, highly sophisticated, pay-as-you-play BC and DR solutions are coming to market under the banner of Cloud Recovery.  Let’s examine the different technologies available in the Recovery as a Service market and how best to take leverage these offerings.
The Recovery as a Service (RaaS) market includes three deployment models:
1.    The first is simple online backup or data warehousing.  It allows businesses to protect their data to the Cloud instead of investing in tape drives, ongoing storage and replacement of them and of course the dreaded “try to recover the data from tape” challenge.  This model is the easiest and most economical way to “back up your data” and is most commonly deployed with SMBs.
This technology has its roots in the consumer space and many vendors have simply taken their consumer offerings and repackaged them for the business market.  The underlying technology, however, was still constructed with consumers in mind, so businesses with more than 4-5 users quickly run into deployment difficulties.  There are exceptions as some vendors have re-architected their platforms to focus on the needs of business (e.g. server data) but for the most part, the Cloud market for online backup and data warehousing is filled with consumer-friendly offerings.
The real problems that these services present – even the few that are better designed for business – don’t stem from the backing up or storage of data. The challenges begin when the data you have backed up or stored needs to be accessed, and used.  
Accent on Recovery
Picture this.  You have a serious site failure – one that has crippled your day-to-day operations, and somebody hands you a backup tape and says, “Here’s our data.  Get our systems back up and running – asap!”  You know the answer, and it’s not pretty. Without a server and tape drive that matches the tape in your hands you are at a total loss, and unable to get your systems back online anytime in the immediate future.  This is a reality that no business leader wants to face but it is, nonetheless, the reality that is baked into every simple online backup and data warehousing solution. 
2.    The second deployment model is rooted in the highly successful virtualization technologies that have come to market during the last several years.  These technologies - usually in a proprietary vendor format - take ongoing snapshots of the server system and the stored data stored at regular intervals.  This virtualization model addresses the need to protect the server system and its associated data, however some significant technology dilemmas still exist for businesses that utilize this model. Consider the following:
a.    Most vendors utilize an onsite appliance to store these images or snapshots.  The appliance needs to be configured, maintained and has physical limits as to the number of servers and amount of data it can protect.  The appliance is often backed up to the Cloud in case of failure, loss, data corruption etc. 
b.    Because each virtualization vendor utilizes its own proprietary format for imaging you are essentially committing your DR strategy to a single vendor with little or no capability of migrating to another supplier should you need or want to.  This is “vendor lock-in” in its truest format and any business that has been stuck buying upgrades and updates from the same software vendors for years because their data is “stuck” in this vendor’s application, will understand this dilemma.  This is a situation to be avoided, and thankfully, there are now some options in the market that can help companies eliminate the potential of vendor lock-in.
c.    Failback - re-direction of your user base from your “failover” or replica servers to your production environment - is a highly complicated and difficult process.  This is where the imagining or appliance model completely fails.  For an appliance or its related image to failback to the production server, one would have to take the image offline (creating immediate and sustained downtime), ship it back to the customer site on some form of appliance or external drive, and then perform a bare-metal recovery.  (A bare-metal recovery is a process in which an image file - typically from a backup or virtual image - overwrites the entire physical system from start to finish.  It’s the same as wiping your functioning server and recopying all the data from backup and at a block by block level.  A risky and very time consuming operation).
3.    The third RaaS deployment model is Cloud Recovery, in which vendors are able to remove almost all the costs for appliances, data centers, physical recovery servers and software from the cost of a DR or BC plan.  By deploying vendor pay-as-you-go virtual instances in the Cloud, businesses are able to obtain high availability to compute and storage resources at a fraction of the costs associated with the “old-world” build-it model.
The Cloud Recovery model not only introduces dramatic cost savings through providing resources on demand, it delivers better performance than traditional onsite systems and can be deployed rapidly – allowing companies to avoid the painful multi-month deployment process that characterizes in-house infrastructure solutions. It’s not uncommon for Cloud Recovery vendors to deploy services using automated tools, with go live times measured in hours instead of months.
Imagine, businesses that operate in high-risk areas such as hurricane alley engaging a Cloud Recovery provider minutes after notification of impending risks, deploying a high availability solution on the fly, and unplugging their servers the same day that a warning is issued. 
Dramatic and Disruptive Shift
Now that’s a dramatic and disruptive shift in how DR and BC solutions are being delivered. Today, there is a Cloud on the horizon and the good news is that its accessible to any business, large or small. The advantages associated with a strong Business Continuity or Disaster Recover solution are no longer only available to large enterprises. 
Joshua Geist is the founder of Geminare.

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